Only recently has physical fitness become an organized industry. For many years, only professional athletes were trained by fitness trainers. However, as more people began to use exercise and weight training equipment, knowledgeable instructors were needed to teach beginners how to safely and effectively use the machines. Today, instructors' services usually are available to anyone who joins a health club.
Aerobics has also become much more widely respected by health professionals than when it first became popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s, mainly because the importance of aerobic activity is now universally recognized. In addition, aerobics itself has diversified to include many options and levels of difficulty. Although the element of dance is still evident in some aerobic moves, it has been de-emphasized in many classes, primarily to encourage those who are less coordinated to participate. Instead of focusing on coordinated dance steps or complicated routines that are difficult to memorize, aerobic workouts now are more focused on a series of movements that aim to elevate the heart rate and work various muscle groups. For example, a particular class may seek to shape and tone specific muscle groups, such as the abdominals or hamstrings. This past decade has seen the introduction of several new branches of aerobics, including water aerobics, step aerobics, interval training, and interval circuit training.
Water aerobics is a popular form of low-impact aerobics. Impact refers to the stress placed on joints and bones during exercise. Because water supports the body and creates resistance, it is an ideal exercise medium. Provided participants wear the proper safety equipment and are in the presence of others, they don't necessarily need to know how to swim, because in most classes, all the movements are done standing upright or holding onto the side of the pool. Water aerobics is especially well suited to older individuals because the water can be therapeutic for aching joints and muscles.
Another popular fitness class is step aerobics. In 1986, an aerobics instructor and body builder named Gin Miller developed a formal step training program after using the technique to recover from a knee injury. Step aerobics involves the use of a specially designed stool or bench that sits from four to 12 inches off the ground. Participants step up and down in different patterns for an excellent cardiovascular workout.
Interval training is another popular approach to exercise. In the late 1980s, Arlette Perry, an exercise physiologist with the University of Miami's Human Performance Laboratory, determined that alternating intense exercise movements with slower paced movements was better for aerobic fitness than a steady level of exercise, because it achieves higher heart rates. Interval classes today incorporate many different types of exercise to raise and maintain participants' heart rates, for example, blending high-impact aerobic moves with lower intensity exercises, such as marching in place or stretching.
Today, aerobics classes are often used in cross training, where amateur and professional athletes combine several different fitness activities to train for a certain sport. A popular workout is circuit training or interval circuit training, which combines aerobic exercise with weight lifting for a full body workout. In circuit training, the workout equipment is arranged to work one group of muscles at a time, alternating so that one set of muscles can rest while the next group is worked. As the athlete moves through each piece of equipment in the circuit, the heart rate remains elevated, without the participants tiring as quickly as they would if repeating the same exercise.
New trends in fitness include aerobics classes for the whole family, as well as the increased use of personal fitness trainers. Many aerobics classes also incorporate movement from styles of dance and other athletic activity. It is not uncommon for health clubs to offer classes in African dance, kickboxing, and salsa—all of which have a strong aerobic-exercise focus. In fact, the demand for qualified personal trainers has become so great that many organizations offer personal training certifications.
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